Is Failure to Pay 407 ETR’s Toll a Crime?


407ETR Artwork

In the University of North Carolina’s School of Government blog, Shea Denning asks the question, “Is Failure to Pay a Toll a Crime?” http://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/is-failure-to-pay-a-toll-a-crime/ I thought that was an interesting question because here in Canada, our first open access toll highway, 407 ETR, recently argued in the Supreme Court of Canada that the interest and fees it charges was a behavior modification tool. So I got to thinking… which is always dangerous… but none the less, I got to asking myself, “If failing to pay 407 ETR is not a crime, what behavior could the company possibly claim it needed to modify?” Also, “What authority does a private corporation, whose main goal is to profit to please their shareholders, have to modify someone’s behavior?” The short answer to this is none.

 

Many of you that have followed my articles in the Toronto Caribbean know, I am not a fan of the open access tolling system because there are just too many things that can go wrong that can leave you with a hefty bill that equates to a small mortgage, in some cases. Also, this tolling method is more expensive than good old fashion manned toll booths. None the less, they are becoming increasingly popular because people, that support the open access electronic tolling system, claim that it eases congestion because you are not clogged up at toll booths when entering and exiting the highway.

 

But there is a more ominous trend we have to be aware of and start an international conversation about. These new electronic tolling systems are being sold around the world to implement a new traffic management scheme that raises tolls, to lower traffic volumes. The benefits of this scheme are sold as a way to reduce congestion and therefore save the environment. Companies like Ferrovial, enter into P3 (private, public, partnership) arrangements with governing authorities around the world and like a snake oil salesman, they swoop in like a knight in shining armor to save a municipality or region’s infrastructure woes. They promise to invest billions of needed infrastructure dollars. BUT there’s a catch… they get to control when, where and if any more infrastructure is built that could compete with their roadway. While this is great for the private company operating the highway because they can claim that their roadway is congestion free and their EBITA is ever increasing, and that makes their shareholders happy, it ties the hands of governing authorities to solve their congestion problems. There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that it causes congestion elsewhere because this scheme does nothing to reduce overall traffic in a region. It just clogs up all the other vital arteries commuters rely on every day.

 

In Shea Denning’s blog, she talks about North Carolina’s policy on these electronic tolling systems. While failing to pay is not a crime, there are civil penalties their governing authorities give people that don’t pay their tolls. These fines for not paying your toll bill seem somewhat reasonable because there are proper authorities in place that truly has the public interest at heart. There are some gotchas, but it’s nothing like what we are contending with in Canada, with 407 ETR.

If you recall, I wrote an article dated May 16th, 2014 called “407 ETR’s Fees and Interest are NOT Fines”. http://407etr-abuseofpower.com/index.php/407-etr-fees-interest-are-not-fines%e2%80%8f/ The gist of that article points out that we have no governing authorities, that have the public interest at heart, that regulate to make sure tolls are paid. As a matter of fact, the group “Stop the 407 ETR’s Abuse of Power” has been calling for the Province of Ontario to regulate the private corporation, 407 ETR. For the most part, to the detriment of consumers, our governing authorities have left a private, monopolistic, corporation self-regulate and that has been disastrous.

 

What I like about North Carolina’s governing authorities is that at least they attempt to regulate the operation of tolls. I’m not sure if the same policies will apply to these new P3 schemes, but at least they have an idea of how these electronic tolls should work. This is something our governing authorities need a lesson on.

 

North Carolina’s policy tells operators of electronic toll highways that they have 90 days to bill someone that doesn’t have a transponder. We all know the ruckus I have been raising, as well as Jack Lakey from the Toronto Star, with respects to what 407 ETR has been doing to people, suppressing bills for years and then expecting thousands and thousands of dollars in undocumented tolls, fees and interest.

 

When 407 ETR first took over the operations of Canada’s first open access toll highway, the company would not even give you a transponder, in some cases. They claimed they had no way of knowing a person’s credit worthiness. As a matter of fact, they still view giving you a transponder as lending you credit. So unlike North Carolina’s policy, in that you have an option to buy a transponder and prepay your tolls, 407 ETR does not give you an option to buy a transponder and prepay your tolls. They own the transponder and you pay a monthly lease on it and your tolls after, they occur. Since they own the transponder, they can and will turn off your transponder if you fail to pay your tolls and claim that because you aren’t paying your tolls they can’t lend you credit. They get to ding you with more fees and interest in the process, if you keep using their highway. Because the company has been allowed to self-regulate, they have created all kinds of gotchas to pad their bottom line.

 

For example, by allowing the company to control who gets a transponder and if and when the company can turn it off, that leaves billing, for non-transponder accounts, 100% up to company to get right. In theory that should be simple because the company can access our private information from the Ministry of Transportation’s database, but because the company choses at times not to do that, the company gets the billing wrong. That in itself is bad, but it gets worse because there is no cap on when the company can bill you. On their invoices, you never received, they tell you their policy is to suppress invoices after 2 months of no activity and that they have 15 years to come after you. Yes, you read that right; they will suppress invoices after 2 months of no activity and then come after you 15 years later! But that’s illegal you protest, once you get slammed with one of their whopper catch up bills. You’re right, it is illegal, because the Limitations Act says a company has just 2 years to come after you for an unpaid bill, but 407 ETR claims they are special and that rule shouldn’t apply to them.

 

So because this is a private corporation and government doesn’t want to dictate how a company should run their business, and the lack of any of our governing authorities regulating like they do in other parts of the world, the consumer is left exposed to the whims of a for profit entity.

 

Think about it. If the company chooses not to access the Ministry of Transportation’s database to make sure they billed the right person, and you do not have a transponder, a $30 toll bill can cost you $5,000 or more by the time they decide to catch up with you.

 

Like I said, just another gotcha in their never ending hunger for ever increasing EBITA. At least North Carolina limits fees and interest on the tolls and limits how long the toll operator has to bill you.

 

407 ETR tries to paint a person that failed to pay tolls like as if they are criminally, willfully evading tolls. They state how many trips were made that were never paid, but omit whether or not they billed the correct person in a timely manner. The company skirts their bill suppression issue and blames you, the consumer, for not notifying them of a change of address or a plate change, despite their being technology that links your plate renewal to your driver’s license. Even when you did notify the company of any changes, there’s no guarantee that they will get the billing correct. The company takes the position that if and when they catch up with you, if you don’t pay, you won’t drive because they will deny your plate. It doesn’t matter how long they took to catch up with you, they have 15 years to go after you. They don’t mind waiting because it just means more money in their pocket.

 

Reading Shea Denning’s blog, was fascinating because I discovered that technology exists, that allows you to go on line to see video/picture proof of toll trips. That’s amazing. Why doesn’t 407 ETR have this technology? This company is making millions and millions of dollars off us, but doesn’t have the up to date technology that can prevent a lot of the problems that contribute to surprise bills.

 

Is failure to pay 407 ETR’s tolls a crime? NO!!! There is an ever growing concern that 407 ETR’s scheme is bordering on criminal activity and needs behavior modification by our governing authorities. Until our governing authorities start to regulate, consumers are doomed.

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13 Responses to “Is Failure to Pay 407 ETR’s Toll a Crime?”

  1. mike says:

    Is it a crime for a company to claim one owes for a toll and fail to send a bill for 10 years jacked with fees and intetest and then refuse to give proof?

    • Tammy Flores says:

      I agree and that’s why we are in court. Our govern authorities need to regulate and so far they have refused to. That’s a bigger problem.

  2. RZ says:

    The interest rates charged by the 407 are rediculous. If you owe money to Rev Canada they will only charge you 7%.

    If this really is a public private partnership shouldn’t they be required to charge rates that are consistent with the government standard.

    Rates of 30% are not meant as a deterrent to consumers missing a payment. They are infact meant to maintain the debt continuously.

    It comes down to fiduciary responsibility. The government has an obligation to provide services to taxpayers and not kill the golden goose. The 407 etr doesn’t seem to believe it has to abide by the same moral standards.

    IMHO, the 407 is repeatedly breaking the law and should have their corporate charter revoked. The BIA is just one example of their push forward at any cost mentality. I believe the directors and senior management should be held personally liable for running this service into the wall so to speak.

  3. Verna Friday says:

    Why do the people and province of ontario allow a Foreign Spanish Company dictate to to the citizens of ontario and charge criminal rates of interest to them……I have a bill that started out as $6.00 that has racked up to over $5,000. and I have not been able to own a plated car for 5 years and it has cost us thousands in business dealings because i am the only lisenced driver in our house. Who is the one committing crimes…..that spanish consortium is extorting us….they are the criminals.

  4. Robert Ritchie says:

    Greetings all,

    I received a bill from the 407 ETR for the amount of $23.09, I thought it was a scam, so I called our local Police, I’m 55 years old and have never heard of such a thing, because I found out that it is legalized robbery I chose to pay the bill and never use that #%*$#! highway ever again.

  5. Theo K says:

    I have one more thing I’d like to add:
    After reading so many horror stories and complaints both on this website and numerous other sources on the Web, I can’t help but ask why we don’t all highly publicize and organize a very large and loud public rally at the doors of Queens Park to DEMAND that our government put an end to this abuse and extortion by a private company!
    I bet we’d get the attention of these 407 scumbags to change their ways if protesters blocked entrances to major 407 highway on-ramps during rush hours for a few days.
    Can we legally organize such demonstrations at major on-ramps to the 407? If yes, then I’d like to be the first to propose that we do just that, and SOON.

  6. J.G. says:

    What is the status of the appeal by the 407 to the ruling re: bankruptcy.

  7. A. Steel says:

    I hope somebody chain-locks them in a building and burns them alive.

  8. DJ says:

    All of the different organizations fighting to make this Spanish company go away need to unite so that we will have the numbers and strength to remove this abomination of a company from North American soil!

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